Practice Talk: Ben Steele from Steele Financial

Ben Steele
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Joining Practice Talk this week is Ben Steele, the managing partner of digital firm Steele Financial.

Ben Steele’s accountancy career started with a sliding doors moment. He was set to start at a university, with his bags packed ready to move into halls, when he was offered a place to learn on the job at a small firm.

In a last-minute decision, he dropped university and took the job instead. That was 12 years ago and he has been in practice ever since.

Steele hasn’t regretted his decision one bit. In fact, he’s become somewhat of an advocate for this route into the profession. With recruitment becoming a big challenge in the profession, Steele is encouraging firms to recruit trainees straight from school.

“I went straight into on-the-job training aged 16 and I've seen what it can do for you, how it is a realistic alternative to university. I go to a local secondary school, give talks about career progression and speak to the guys who think university isn't achievable for them. I ensure they know that is not the only route to a successful career.” 

Two years ago Steele’s sliding doors moment paid off when he opened the doors to his cloud-based accountancy firm, Steele Financial.

But as he explains in this week’s Practice Talk, starting a new firm comes with the stresses of long working hours and being agile to client demands...

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What is the first thing you do when you set foot in the office?

The first thing is to make a coffee because I can't do anything without coffee. Then it's usually checking clients are OK. That can involve emails, voice mails etc... Once that is out of the way I get straight into tasks. I have a good team around me, so I make sure the team knows what they are doing that week. 

What time does a typical day start?

I usually wake up around 5am and am at my desk by 6.30am, but it depends. Some weeks where we have a big workload, I'll be there from 6.30am/7am until 7pm. But then I like to live for the moment, so if we have a quieter day I'll just pack up and head off and try to enjoy some of my own time.

How do you plan out your day?

We use a practice management software that tells us our tasks every day. On Mondays, I look at my tasks for the week, upload any new ones that have come in over the weekend, and that will give me a good idea of the week's work.

What does your workspace look like?

It's very clean, very white and minimalist. We've tried to keep it really modern. I say tried: it's a fully digital firm and supposed to paperless but I love paper. I love to be able to put pen to paper and make notes and scribbles.

When I started my practice the new thing was curved screens. I bought two of these enormous 30inch curved screens. So when you sit at my desk you are surrounded by screens. That was the thing for me. Do I regret it? A little bit, because they are not as fun to work with as you'd think. But I am stuck with them for now. 

How much of your day is spent talking/meeting with clients?

I'd say half. I try to deal with most of that side of things myself. I have a really good team who look after clients from a technical point of view, make sure their accounting is up to date and that their questions and concerns are answered. In terms of the meetings and face-to-face conversations, I try to do as much of that as possible. Because it is so time-consuming I find it best to put that on my plate and let my team get on with the actual work. 

Are you someone who would eat their lunch at their desk or do you break away from the office?

Do you know what, I can't remember the last time I had a lunch break. And sadly, most days I go without lunch. It used to be a problem and now it is just natural. Some days I forget lunchtime is even a thing. But I do play it by ear. Some days when it is quieter and my workload isn't as bad, I will have a nice lunch and spend an hour down at the pub near the firm. All the team have lunches and I encourage them to get out and about. I've set them up a cool little space in the office where there is a room with a TV on the wall, Netflix and that sort of thing for them to chill out on their lunch breaks. 

What do you do to escape the world of tax and accounts?

I'm checking emails right up until my head hits the pillow - and sometimes as my head is on the pillow. To chill out, my escape is Netflix. There is always a good series on there to take your mind away from real life. I try to go swimming on an evening if I can and I have the energy.

Can you remember your first calculator?

My first calculator was the one I had during exams at school. I'd kept that calculator because it had nice big buttons and I carried that into my first job. On my first trainee job, I was always jealous of my manager's calculator - it was one of those Casio calculators that printed off this roll of paper every time she hit enter. I used to think: I really want one of those. She had it 20-odd years. 

Ben Steele also joined AccountingWEB's No Accounting for Taste podcast. Click the play button above to hear Ben's thoughts on the always-on culture, client expectations in the digital age and much much more.  

About Richard Hattersley

Richard Hattersley

Richard is AccountingWEB's Practice Editor. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.